Frequently Asked Questions
You can feel safe about your assignment if, in reading it over, you can honestly say that any words or ideas in it that are not your own, and that are not “common knowledge,” have been clearly attributed to their source in such a way that your reader will be left in no doubt. If after reassessing your text you are still unsure, take it, along with your source material, to your instructor or to the Writing Centre for a second opinion.
Common knowledge is information that is generally known by an audience and that therefore does not need to be cited. This information can be easily located in multiple general reference sources, such as encyclopedias and almanacs. For example, stating information such as that Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949 or that table salt is composed of sodium chloride are facts that do not require citation. These are facts that are undisputed and easily accessible. It is important to note, however, that the boundaries of what qualifies as common knowledge can shift depending upon your audience. As an audience becomes more specialized within a discipline, its members may share a more specialized common knowledge. For example, nursing supervisors writing for their peers about a policy well-known among them might not need to indicate a particular source defining the policy, whereas first-year nursing students who are just learning about this policy would have to cite their sources when writing an assignment about it. You should check with your instructor if you are unsure if something is considered common knowledge in the scope of a particular class assignment. Information not generally known to an audience, as well as opinions about or interpretations of information, does need to be cited. Finally, if you are unsure whether or not information requires citation, it is best to cite your sources.
Paraphrasing is a demonstration of understanding through content restatement. Writers need to paraphrase all information that does not belong to them by rewriting the original content using a variety of approaches (sentence structure changes, word form changes, and synonyms). Summarizing is a paraphrase of the highlights or main ideas in a source. It demonstrates a writer's ability to identify, comprehend, and consolidate the author's main points in a document.
Writers will use quotations to provide evidence and significance of accurate content, establish connections, explain perspective, and/or show the thought process.